Stretching and flexibility: 5 Classes for Non-Yogis in Hong Kong
I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints from my frisbee teammates lately re stretching:
- I don’t think I’m going to reach my stretch goal (ha!) of touching my toes in three months…
I haven’t been stretching…
I just don’t have the discipline…
- I want to stretch, I just don’t want to go to yoga class and chant ohms and stuff
- Nobody stretches in this sport! (Rugby player commenting about Ultimate Frisbee players)
- I pulled my hamstring / shoulder / butt / quad / back / etc… again!
So what are you gonna do about it?
I guess this is the part that people have trouble with — namely discipline and laziness. I get that it can be hard to go through a full stretching routine on your own, especially if you haven’t done much stretching in the past. Personally, I’ve found classes to be a great solution.
- You don’t have to plan the session; it’s all done for you
- Sometimes the instructor asks for problem areas so you even get customized exercises for your sore spots
- Good instructors will generally come round and adjust your position to make sure you’re doing the stretch right — can’t get that from Googling / Youtube
- Signing up for a class locks you in, be it emotional or financial reasons (studios/gyms usually charge a no-show or late cancellation fee), making it harder for you to weasel out of a session you planned to do (probably while you were feeling more motivated).
And so, if you can’t bring yourself to stretch on the field, I hope these recommendations can help you build that flexibility when you’re off it.
Alright, let’s get started.
After trying 100+ classes (I use a subscription service — I’ve put details at the bottom of the article), I’ve put together a list of the top 5 beginner-friendly classes I would recommend to those who are just getting started. I’ve included some short reviews that cover the top 3 questions I have when I’m deciding to join a class:
- The Crowd: who goes to this class? What are they like? Is everyone going to be better than me?
- The Instruction: what’s the instructor like? How hard is this class going to be?
- The Fun: There are different reasons for enjoying a class — I’ll try to pick out the ones that may help you decide.
C-R Stretch Class (Kinetic Stretch @ Causeway Bay / Tsim Sha Tsui)
Efficient and pragmatic. Usually gets through a lot of stretches. Uses dynamic stretching (which I find very effective).
Everyone else’s flexibility: ranges, but you’ll definitely find some stiff office workers here.
All locals and generally in their 30s-50s. I think many are office workers who come during their lunch hour. Every now and then I see a gentleman (the same one) join this class. The class numbers range from 2 to around 15 depending on what time / day you go.
Kinetic Stretch reminds me of a physio centre more than a fitness studio (and in fact they do have two separate rooms for private consultations). I find their approach to stretching systematic, with a set routine to go through every session (no customization here; also, the instructors wear company gear). It’s efficient and probably gets through the largest number of stretches of any 1-hr class.
This may be in part due to their use of dynamic stretching. While other classes have participants “hold” their positions deepen their stretch, C-R instructors apply dynamic stretching techniques, where participants are asked to contract their muscles while in the stretching position. Upon release, you may find that the muscle is able to stretch a little bit more. This saves time with shorter “holds”, allowing participants to get through more stretches (with potentially the same loosening effect).
You’ll enjoy this class if:
- You just want a straightforward stretching class
- You want to learn some stretches that you can while sitting at your desk
Myofascial Release (Fighting Arts Centre @ Quarry Bay / Kowloon Bay)
Relaxing, centred around a 3-foot foam roller. Minimum exertion required.
Everyone else’s flexibility: pretty hard to tell because everything is done on a foam roller
Language: Cantonese / English
Again, one for the office workers (Tai Koo Place), mostly local ladies but it’s not uncommon to see one or two men and expats in this class. Not sure any of this is too relevant though because you’re on your back and rolling most of the time; you won’t be interacting with others, nor will you really see what/how everyone else is doing.
The soft spoken instructor leads a relaxed vibe for the class. Depending on the size of the class, she may give personalized verbal corrections for your postures, but she generally stays at her mat.
For the entire duration of the class, you will be working with a long foam roller — I am referring to one that is actually made of foam with a completely smooth surface. The result is that most of the positions are very gentle, both in terms of the degree of pain you’ll feel from the roller and the amount of strength you need to prop yourself up.
You may wonder why you would join a foam roller class when you could just do it at home? Personally, I go because 1) I learn new ways of using the roller, 2) I don’t have a smooth roller, nor one that’s as long as this one (which allows for more stretches), and 3) I’m really too lazy to roll for an hour on my own. If you want to gain flexibility with (almost) no pain, this class is for you.
You’ll enjoy this class if:
- you want a relaxing and relatively pain-free way to stretch
- you actually just want to relax (e.g. during your lunch hour)
- you want to try / have been advised to roll but don’t have a roller at home
Release (TORQ @ Central)
Straightforward roller-driven class. Fewer positions, longer time in each position
Everyone else’s flexibility: again, hard to tell with a rolling class, but groaning is quite common.
I went on a Saturday so there were just three people, with a mix of gender and local/expat representation (but this is a tiny sample). It’s possible that participants are more athletic, but again, the sample size is probably too small to be conclusive.
I feel like the class had a clear “get on with business” vibe to it. There’s a mix of rolling and stretching, and positions require slightly more body strength to maintain. This is partially because, instead of going through more positions, we spent more time rolling in each one. I would say I didn’t make any major discoveries in terms of rolling techniques in this class, but the longer positions and the bumpy roller made the session more physically and emotionally demanding (e.g. being able to “lean into the pain”).
You’ll enjoy this class if:
- you like rolling
- you lack discipline to roll by yourself (or to get through the painful parts)
- you work near LKF (they’re on Stanley street)
Stretch Therapy and Mobility (Monkey Business @ Sheung Wan)
In one word: fun. I’d say they live up to their name. Uses peer-assisted stretching.
Everyone else’s flexibility: Not too flexible
Language: Cantonese (though I suspect English would be available)
The crowd was all local, in their mid-20s to 40s, with a pretty high guy-girl ratio of about 1:4. The class was small, just 8 people, and most of the classmates seemed to be regulars, but were friendly and not at all clique-y.
Half of the class were quite vocal (read: grunts) about their struggles in various stretches, while the other half, entertained, filled the space with laughter.
I found the class quite interesting, having learnt quite a few new stretches in the process. The instructor likes to use peer-assisted stretching — in fact the entire second half of the class consisted of it (which is rare: in other classes, only 1–2 stretches are peer-assisted, if at all). I think the peer assisted work may explain why the participants seem to feel so comfortable in the class.
The instructor will come round to help adjust individual positions and ask whether you’d like (her to help you) to intensify the stretch. Your classmates will also do the same. The instructor also asks at the beginning of class for problem areas, so the stretches are customized to what participants request.
You’ll enjoy this class if:
- You speak Cantonese
- Want something fun and maybe social
- Don’t mind being touched by other classmates
- Want the option (but no pressure) of challenging yourself
- Like 「糖妹」Yep, she was there for some reason.
For those of you who are either 1) looking for something more challenging or 2) looking for more stretching options, and are willing to give yoga a try, I would highly recommend checking out Yin Yoga classes. They are a lot more prevalent than pure stretching classes, which for me means a lot more flexibility (!) to work a class into my schedule. Yin is focussed on much longer holds, so depending on your instructor, it can be way more challenging. I wouldn’t recommend friends with no stretching experience to to start with Yin though, less it discourage you from stretching after just one difficult session.
How am I going to afford it all?
A real concern if you’re not rolling in dough. So here are a few options:
- Do a trial class — most studios offer trial sessions <$200 a pop (often $100) or week-long unlimited passes for new customers.
- Sign up for an unlimited studio membership — if you find a studio with classes you really like, you can get a monthly membership. If you’re an avid user, you can get an unlimited membership, which makes the cost per class relatively low (and hopefully encourages you to do more stretching!). Unlimited memberships are usually around HK$1,000 per month. I’ve included links to all the studios above.
- (What I actually do) Guavapass: it’s a subscription to hundreds of private gyms/studios (i.e. not Pure / Physical / Fitness First) across Hong Kong (and some other Asian cities). You get 1–3 classes per studio per month, but there are so many studios that there is no way you would run out, even if you did one stretching class per day (which I generally do, on weekdays). Guavapass costs $1,200 per month (at the time of writing).
Disclaimer: Not getting paid by any of the companies mentioned, but if you use the Guavapass link above, you and I both get $200 bucks off, which is kinda nice.
What are you waiting for?
If you’ve read till here, then you really have no more excuses. Go check out the class schedules (I’ve linked directly to the studio’s classes/schedules) and get stretching!
OK, if you really have a question or concern that’s actually preventing you from getting started, leave a comment and I’ll get on it.